Political conflict triggers concern that Poland might be next to exit European Union

Warsaw: Since British voters endorsed leaving the European Union, politicians and pundits have ruminated on which of the bloc's remaining 27 nations could be next.

"Grexit" and "Frexit," for Greece and France, were two subjects of speculation.

Now, months of open conflict between Poland's conservative nationalist government and the rest of the European Union has some Poles wondering if their leaders are putting the country on a path that could take it out of the union.

"There is a question mark over Poland's European future today," European Council president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who is a critic of the ruling Law and Justice party, said Thursday.

The European Union is widely popular in Poland, so the idea of the country abandoning the bloc strikes many people here as far-fetched. Several surveys have shown public support for the European Union standing at over 70 per cent, approval stemming from the economic boom and freedom of travel that came with membership in 2004.

But members of the opposition in Poland increasingly are voicing fears that the conflicts between Warsaw and Brussels could eventually lead to a parting of ways.

 Political conflict triggers concern that Poland might be next to exit European Union

Representational image. Reuters

They point to the defiant stance Law and Justice and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, adopted when the European Union raised concerns about changes to Poland's justice system and the extensive logging the government has ordered in a primeval forest that has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Government spokesman Rafal Bochenek insisted that Polish leaders intend to keep Poland in the bloc.

"Poland is a member of European Union and is going to be a leading partner to other member states within the structure," Bochenek told The Associated Press on Friday. "We have got many ambitious projects and challenges to realise in the European Union. We will cooperate with our European partners."

Law and Justice has never publicly advocated leaving the bloc, but criticises what it views as unnecessary European Union bureaucracy and infringements on the authority of member countries to make their own decisions.

In that vein, Poland's government aggressively pushed through legislation to put the court system under the ruling party's control. The European Union's executive arm has said the moves violate democratic norms by reducing judicial independence.

With Warsaw refusing to give in to the bloc's calls for it to respect the separation of powers, the European Commission is threatening steps that could lead to Poland losing its European Union voting rights.

The government also has continued logging in the Bialowieza Forest even though the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ordered it last week to stop felling trees immediately. If it continues, Poland could be hit with massive fines. Katarzyna Lubnauer, a lawmaker with the opposition Modern party, said recently that because Poles are such "Euro-enthusiasts," nobody in the ruling Law and Justice party would admit that leaving the bloc is their aim.

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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2017 16:00:35 IST